This tiny "soft" robot, just 3cm long, zips along at 20 of its body lengths per second. It can also carry heavy things, like peanuts in the shell, but that slows it down a bit. And amazingly, you can step on it and it won't die. Over at IEEE Spectrum, Ivan Ackerman writes about the little robot developed by researchers from Tsinghua University and UC Berkeley:
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It takes a scanning electron microscope to actually see what the robot is made of—a thermoplastic layer is sandwiched by palladium-gold electrodes, bonded with adhesive silicone to a structural plastic at the bottom. When an AC voltage (as low as 8 volts but typically about 60 volts) is run through the electrodes, the thermoplastic extends and contracts, causing the robot’s back to flex and the little “foot” to shuffle...
The researchers also put together a prototype with two legs instead of one, which was able to demonstrate a potentially faster galloping gait by spending more time in the air. They suggest that robots like these could be used for “environmental exploration, structural inspection, information reconnaissance, and disaster relief,” which are the sorts of things that you suggest that your robot could be used for when you really have no idea what it could be used for. But this work is certainly impressive, with speed and robustness that are largely unmatched by other soft robots. An untethered version seems possible due to the relatively low voltages required to drive the robot, and if they can put some peanut-sized sensors on there as well, practical applications might actually be forthcoming sometime soon.
Earlier this month, I was in Washington DC during the Smithsonian's festivities around the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and the first human moon landing. As you likely saw, UK-based creative studio 59 Productions and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum collaborated on an astonishing audiovisual experience centered around a lifesize Saturn V rocket projected onto the Washington Monument. Read the rest
Well, it's finally official. After more than a year in regulatory limbo, The United States Justice Department has approved a $26 billion dollar deal between mobile carriers T-Mobile and Sprint. Read the rest
The Justice Department is expected to approve a $26 billion deal between mobile carriers Sprint and T-Mobile on Friday. Read the rest
Donald Trump says his administration will not provide any waivers or relief for Apple Mac Pro components built in China, and said Apple should instead build its products in the U.S. Read the rest
Aquanaut is an autonomous submarine developed by Houston Mechatronics Inc. that transforms into a humanoid robot -- well, the upper half anyway -- to service underwater oil and gas rigs. IEEE Spectrum's Evan Ackerman took a dive with Aquanaut in a massive swimming pool that NASA uses to help train astronauts for microgravity. From IEEE Spectrum:
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The HMI engineers, who often joke that building a Transformer has been one of their long-term career objectives, are convinced that it can be done. Aquanaut has been designed primarily for servicing subsea oil and gas installations. The companies that own and operate this infrastructure spend vast sums of money to inspect and maintain it. They rely on robotic technologies that haven’t fundamentally changed in decades, largely because of the challenge of working in such an extreme environment. For HMI, however, that’s not a problem: Of its 75 employees, over two dozen used to work for NASA. Extreme environments are what they’re best at.
HMI cofounder and chief technology officer Nic Radford spent 14 years working on advanced robotics projects at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, in Houston. “I’ll grant you that getting into space is harder than getting underwater,” he says. “But space is a pristine environment. Underwater, things are extraordinarily dynamic. I haven’t decided yet whether it’s 10 times harder or 50 times harder for robots working underwater than it is in space..."
Aquanaut will not require a tether or a support ship. It will travel in submarine mode to its deepwater destination, where it’ll transform into its humanoid form, unfolding its powerful arms.
We can expect three new “iPhone 11” models this fall from Apple, according to the official unofficial rumor mill. Each of these is said to be designed with an A13 chip, a Lightning port, and a new 'Taptic Engine' that will replace iPhone's current 3D Touch. Read the rest
Researchers from the University of Chicago and Sony are developing a wearable electrical muscle stimulation system that boosts your physical reaction time without making it feel like you've lost control of your body. The latter is particularly important when considering the development of exoskeletons and other systems that bring us physically closer to machines for augmenting human capabilities. The system essentially zaps your muscles into contracting at precisely the right time while making it seem as if you're still controlling the movement. From IEEE Spectrum:
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The typical reaction time for a human is about 250 milliseconds—meaning it takes you about a quarter of a second after you see something to physically react to it. But the researchers explain that "our conscious awareness of intention takes a moment to arise, around 200 ms." In other words, it takes you about 200 milliseconds for your brain to turn sensory input into a decision to do something like move a muscle, and then another 50 or so milliseconds for that muscle to actually start moving. The researchers suggest that this 50-ish millisecond gap between intention and action is a window that they can exploit to make humans react more quickly while still feeling like the action they take is under their control.
The video below shows a series of experiments that demonstrate how reflexes can be usefully accelerated without decreasing the sense of control, or agency, that the user experiences. It turns out that an EMS-driven improvement in reflexes of up to 80 milliseconds is possible while still maintaining the user's sense of agency, which is the difference between success and failure in these particular experiments.
Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google (Alphabet) will testify next week before a House congressional committee at a hearing on the power held by online platforms, and whether government should be regulating it. Read the rest
GrubHub is buying up thousands of restaurant web addresses, and “also appears to publish shadow pages without owners' consent—sometimes in direct competition with real websites,” reports The New Food Economy.
Why would the app-based restaurant delivery service do such a crazy thing?
It looks like the reason may be -- shocking, I know! -- predatory greed. Read the rest
Whiskers are a fantastic natural sensor that enables cats, fish, seals, and many other animals to detect not just direct contact but even air flow indicating an approaching object. In a fascinating example of biomimicry, University of Queensland engineer Pauline Pounds and her colleagues have developed tiny whisker sensors for drones. According to the researchers, the whiskers are well-suited for "navigating through dark, dusty, smoky, cramped spaces, or gusty, turbulent environments with micro-scale aircraft that cannot mount heavier sensors such as lidars." At IEEE Spectrum, Evan Ackerman writes:
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The whisker fibers themselves are easy to fabricate—they’re just blobs of ABS plastic that are heated up and then drawn out into long thin fibers like taffy. The length and thickness of the whiskers can be modulated by adjusting the temperature and draw speed. The ABS blob at the base of each whisker is glued to a 3D-printed load plate, which is in turn attached to a triangular arrangement of force pads (actually encapsulated MEMS barometers)...
It can detect forces as low as 3.33 micronewtons, meaning that the researchers had to be careful not to stand too close to the whiskers while making measurements since the force of their breathing would throw things off. This sensitivity allows the whiskers to detect the wave of air generated by objects moving towards them, perhaps not in time for the drone to actually stop, but certainly in time for it to take other steps to protect itself, like cutting power to its motors. The whiskers can also be used to measure fluid flow (a proxy for velocity through the air), and of course, at slow speeds they work as contact sensors.